Companies failing to act on ESG issues risk losing investors, finds new PwC survey

02 November 2021 PwC

Environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors increasingly drive investment strategies, and new research from PwC finds ESG has now become a make-or-break consideration for leading investors globally.

Almost half of investors surveyed, 49%, express willingness to divest from companies that aren’t taking sufficient action on ESG issues. More than half, 59%, also say lack of action on ESG issues makes it likely they would vote against an executive pay agreement, while fully a third say they have already taken this action. A large majority, 79%, say the way a company manages ESG risks and opportunities is an important factor in their investment decision making.

The PwC 2021 Global Investor ESG Survey, captures the views of 325 investors from around the world, primarily active asset managers and analysts with investment firms, investment banks or brokerage firms. An additional 40 in-depth interviews were conducted globally with investors and analysts having more than a combined US$11.6 trillion assets under management.

While most investors are likely to take action if companies are not doing enough to address ESG issues, most also say that they don’t want a company’s action on ESG to significantly, if at all, impact their investment returns. The vast majority, 81%, said they would accept no more than one percentage point less in investment returns for pursuit of ESG goals; nearly half, (49%), were unwilling to accept any reduction in returns.

James Chalmers, Global Assurance Leader, PwC UK, said: “Our research shows investors are simultaneously focused on short-term results as well as the longer-term societal issues that can create both risks and opportunities for their investments. It is clear that investors expect ESG to be an integral part of corporate strategy. That includes making expenditures to address ESG issues, while clearly communicating the rationale and benefits to the business strategy. If investors don’t see that commitment, they won’t hesitate to take action and that can include divesting their position in a company and taking their clients’ money elsewhere.”

Investors want more robust and trusted ESG reporting

Investors increasingly want to hear more from companies about their ESG-related commitments -- 83% surveyed said it is important that ESG reporting provide detailed information about progress toward ESG goals. Greater engagement with investors is critical, along with transparent, trustworthy reporting. It is concerning that only one third of investors surveyed, on average, think that the quality of ESG reporting they are seeing is good. Investors gain greater confidence in ESG reporting that has been assured – 79% of those surveyed said they place more trust in ESG information that has been assured, and 75% think it’s important that reported ESG-related metrics are independently assured.

A consistent set of metrics for measuring ESG performance would be of significant benefit to investors, according to the survey. Nearly three-quarters (74%) said their decision-making would be better informed if companies applied a single set of ESG reporting standards, and a similar number (73%) say it’s important to be able to compare ESG performance across companies.

Jayne Mammatt ESG Africa leader for PwC Africa says:

In Africa and beyond, we believe organisations must integrate ESG considerations into their corporate and investment initiatives and activities, as well as internalise ESG holistically, to build trust and ensure long-term sustainability, agility and competitiveness. Stakeholders increasingly expect organisations to communicate and deliver convincing and measurable strategies on material ESG matters.”

Renitha Dwarika, PwC Africa Reporting Lead, says:

“The survey highlights the need for a single set of globally aligned sustainability reporting standards to improve consistency and comparability. In the absence of this, ESG investors and other stakeholders are extremely challenged in evaluating ESG matters. Companies need to focus on incorporating ESG standards, taking into account international frameworks and other benchmarks for performance while ensuring consistency and visibility of the treatment of ESG matters within the financial statements. When you tell investors and other stakeholders how you plan to reset your strategy, reimagine your reporting, reinvent your operations, and drive toward new outcomes, you build trust while creating sustainable value for the long term.”

Climate is the leading ESG consideration for investors surveyed, with reducing Scope 1 and 2 greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions being the most cited (by 65%) ESG issue for companies to prioritise. What’s more, 82% of investors said it is important that ESG reporting explains the rationale for environmental commitments, along with detailed plans on how to reach them. Ensuring worker health and safety (44%) and improving workforce and executive diversity, equity and inclusion (37%) are other priority ESG considerations identified.

According to the investors surveyed, ESG strategy starts at the top. A high percentage of investors (82%) said ESG needs to be embedded in the corporate strategy, and by a wide margin (66%) respondents said they are most confident ESG issues are being addressed if someone in the C-suite is accountable. More than half of those respondents (53%) think it should be the CEO.

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